Patriots’ defense dominates in week two

Caricature of Devin McCourty, free safety who plays for the New England Patriots.

In week one, the Patriots did not play particularly well on either side of the ball. However, in week two, the Patriots did what they've done so well under Bill Belichick: feast on a rookie QB. The helpless victim this time was New York Jets signal-caller Zach Wilson. The Pats defense picked off the young Wilson four times. Stud cornerback J.C. Jackson had two of those picks and now has 19 in just 47 regular season games as a pro. The other two interceptions were by safeties Adrian Phillips and Devin McCourty. The Pats' defense kept the pressure on Wilson all game. They sacked the rookie QB four times and knocked him down seven times. Free agent signee Matt Judon had seven total pressures of Wilson in the game, sacking him once, knocking him down once, and had five hurries. Second year edge rusher Josh Uche was also productive, with six total pressures, including two sacks of his own. Uche was a bright spot on an otherwise dreary 2020 Pats squad, earning a 77.6 grade from the advanced football metrics site, Pro Football Focus. The Pats certainly hope that he can continue to play a pivotal role for them going forward.

However, it wasn't all pretty. Despite basically shutting down the Jets' passing game, the Patriots struggled to stop the run. The Pats gave up 152 yards on the ground, and over five yards per attempt. They also gave up 59 yards to the combination of Wilson, Michael Carter, Ty Johnson and Tevin Coleman.

While the running soap opera of who would be the Patriots' starting quarterback has eaten up most of the air in New England since 2019, their defense has not gotten nearly enough attention. They dominated in 2019, leading the league in the fewest yards and points allowed. Linebacker Kyle Van Noy affectionately nicknamed the team's linebacking corps of himself, Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins, "The Boogeymen". Stephon Gilmore won defensive player of the year. However, it would not be built to last. Van Noy and Collins both left in free agency, while Gilmore was banged up for most of 2020. Hightower opted out of the 2020 season due to the pandemic, concerned about his newborn child at home. As a result, the defense regressed in 2020, falling to 15th in yards, while being just 23rd in passing yards per attempt, and 20th in rushing yards per attempt.

Bill Belichick set out in the 2021 offseason to try and fix the problems that plagued his stop unit. He signed edge rusher, Matt Judon; defensive back, Jalen Mills; and brought back Kyle Van Noy. Not to mention, Hightower announced that he would be returning for the 2021 season. As a result, the Pats' defense was considered by many to be among the league's best defenses, ranking fifth out of 32 teams, according to ESPN's Pro Football Index. However, Gilmore had a contract dispute with the team, which meant he held out of training camp. On top of this, Gilmore suffered an injury during training, which put him on the Physically Unable to Perform, or PUP list, meaning he would not be available until week six, at the earliest. Nevertheless, the Pats' defense has held up, and after two weeks, they rank second in fewest points allowed and fifth in fewest yards allowed.

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